A Defining Moment

It had been a warm summer day. I was tired and bored and ready for the evening church service to be over. As the congregation sang the intermediate hymn, I lifted my head up from my mother’s lap in an attempt to respond to her gentle encouragement to sing. But there was a lot more meeting left to endure than my 8-year-old body felt it could handle. So I just leaned against my mother’s arm and felt terribly guilty for not joining in the song of worship.

I liked music. And I liked church. My lack of participation was not due to lack of interest nor an act of defiance. Yes, I was tired. But the stronger motivation to remain silent was that I had recently become convinced that I didn’t sing well, and I just didn’t want everyone else to know that right then.

My mother never pushed me to join in, but somehow I knew that I was expected to sing. I mean, that’s what people do at church. Looking around, it was obvious. Everyone was singing—the Music Director, the leaders on the stand, and even Brother Miller, the most quiet, reclusive man (and the oldest bachelor I had ever known) were all offering praises through song.

As the weight of my “duty” fell upon me, my gaze drifted over to the organist, Pat Ashliman. I remember noticing that she played with a look of confidence and unstrained concentration. But I also noticed that she wasn’t singing. She wasn’t singing!

“What?” I wondered, “Organists don’t have to sing?!?”

I watched her through the remainder of the hymn. Not a note escaped her lips.

The hymn ended. My mother placed the hymnal back in its holder. As my head rested once again on her lap, I whispered in my heart:  “I want to be an organist.”


4 thoughts on “A Defining Moment

  1. Now that I’m older and my voice is not what it once was, I’m grateful to rescue the congregation (especially my husband) from my attempts to sing those notes that are now just beyond my reach. However, I sometimes sing along as I play, but more often than not, I am content to enjoy the melodious sound that comes from the congregation. My defining moment when I knew I wanted to be a church organist was when I first touched an organ while in college. “Wow” thought I – “I’ve been exposed to organs all of my life at church. Why did I not notice them until now?”

  2. That’s funny. But I always thought that not getting to sing the hymns was one of the few drawbacks to playing the organ (that and never getting a good seat in Sunday School). Now that I’m older and I care less about what people think, I will sing while I play — if the hymn is going well — and I have the words memorized — and I’m pretty confident on the alto part — well, maybe just on the chorus or a verse or two

    • my first organ teacher would sing the hymns as she played in church, too. I generally know the words and sing them in my mind while I play, but trying to sing the alto part while playing the organ? wow! too much for me!!!

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